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CCAP Chaplains Unite

A Letter from Jeremy and Luta Garbat-Welch, based in Malawi

May 2019

Write: Jeremy Garbat-Welch
Write: Luta Garbat-Welch

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In March, I facilitated a two-day training for CCAP hospital chaplains. Twelve chaplains from four of the five CCAP synods gathered for two days to learn active listening and attending skills, as well as some practical guidance on working in hospitals. We covered basic counseling skills such as using open questions and reflective statements to show that we are paying attention, attending to people’s feelings, and paying attention to our own body posture and other cues that indicate whether we are interested in someone. The lessons integrated scripture to encourage the chaplains to start viewing biblical passages through the lens of their role as chaplains. For example, we saw that Matthew 25 reminds us that we need to be ready for Jesus to surprise us in the people we serve. Mark 9 shows how Jesus met a family in a time of crisis, and how the people we serve can both cling to their faith in God and struggle with disbelief simultaneously. As the chaplains practiced counseling skills with one another, they began to see how they could change their ministries. A chaplain from Mulanje said, “This is more difficult than I realized!” Although some of them have been chaplains for over a year, they all expressed that working on counseling skills was good and challenging for them. The consistent feedback at the end of the training was “we needed more time!” Two days just wasn’t long enough.

This was the first time I was able to hold a skills-training session for chaplains, and also the first meeting that specifically included chaplains from the various synods. A major highlight was the connection the chaplains had with one another. When I met over a year ago with chaplains in the synods, they all expressed a hope that they could gather together across the synods. Multiple times they expressed how happy they were that they were able to do so. Appointing chaplains full-time to institutions is relatively new, and they have told me that they often feel neglected or forgotten. Gathering together let them share their experiences, including their desire to see the synods engage in chaplaincy more and create departments to standardize it.

As they gave examples of their ministry, shared challenges and asked me questions, it became clear that their synod contexts present particular challenges and strengths. For example, the Nkhoma Synod chaplains are all appointed full-time to their positions, with no other congregational responsibilities. This is rare in the CCAP; I recently learned that even some general secretaries keep congregational pastor responsibilities. Pastors get paid a small stipend from the synod, and it is expected that congregations will give allowances to support their needs. This often takes the form of a manse or other housing, and money to pay for transport or utility bills. Chaplains assigned to institutions with no congregations can focus on chaplain assignments, but they unfortunately lack the congregational social and financial support they are accustomed to having. Though they like the ability to focus, they feel alone. One of the Blantyre chaplains, on the other hand, is assigned to a hospital and five congregations and is also expected to visit the nearby prison! Most of the other chaplains fell in the middle, having one congregation as well as the hospital.

There were a lot of ideas shared about the advantages and disadvantages of the various situations. What was unexpected for me is that they decided as a group to draft ideas to share at the next CCAP General Assembly meeting. They want to be unified as chaplains, to be able to give some guidance to the G.A. that can then be shared with the various synods. Hopefully in the future there will be chaplain departments that create a standard set of expectations and allow the chaplains to feel more supported and focused. The ownership the chaplains took of the process filled me with joy, and I am happy to support their voices as they move forward.

March was a difficult month for Malawi. It is near the end of rainy season, and around harvest season as well. Torrential rains for consecutive days not only damaged and flooded crops that were nearly ready for harvest, but also caused considerable property damage and loss of life. President Mutharika declared a state of natural disaster in the southern region. Just a week or so after that, Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique. The subsequent weather here has not been as bad as predicted, but it was enough to threaten some dams and cause more damage. Mozambique is also one of the sources for Malawi imports, fuel and electricity, so as it goes through a long recovery period people are also concerned about the impact on the economy and infrastructure here.

The cyclone struck during the training session I was holding for the CCAP chaplains. Since some were from the southern region, there was a lot of conversation about the floods and the impact on people in their communities. The need for a holistic response that addresses not only immediate physical needs but also emotional needs is clear. It is also clear that long-term solutions and approaches are needed, as some of these regions flood regularly. Please continue to pray for Malawi and our neighbors during this time of recovery. Pray especially for the CCAP chaplains as they seek to share God’s love through a ministry of presence in emotionally draining settings.

When the training session ended, the chaplains asked me what the plan was going forward. We decided that more trainings like this are necessary to equip other chaplains. Finding a way to meet either in person or virtually to allow the chaplains to connect across the synods with the General Assembly would also be helpful. In order to make this happen, more funding is required for the chaplains’ work. We are very thankful for all of the support that you continue to give us so that we can be here in Malawi. We pray that you will continue bolstering this ministry and ourselves through prayer, encouragement and financial support.

Please also consider offering your financial support to the chaplain-training events by clicking here.

Jeremy and Luta

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